The advent of satellite channels onto the Arab media landscape has been a boon for radical Islamists.
Unable to keep pace with the rapid evolution of this new communication medium, Maghreb governments left the field open for extremists to launch satellite channels. These TV channels – left beyond the control of regional governments -often distil dangerous and demagogic messages.
Progress cannot be stopped, but Maghreb governments have failed to rightly measure the threats posed by globalisation on their societies.
As paradoxical as it may seem, conservatives were the first to oppose satellite channels, considering them a “cultural invasion”.
Their remarks were obviously directed toward Western channels, which were initially the only ones broadcasting to North Africa.
The explosion of Arab satellite channels offered an unprecedented opportunity to radical Islamists. They found that despite their limited resources and personnel, they could launch TV channels from Western countries.
Maghreb governments find themselves unarmed, because they cannot prohibit these channels operating from foreign countries, or constantly disrupt broadcast frequencies to prevent citizens from watching them.
Two communication strategies are at war: that of governments obsessed with maintaining their control and that of the Islamists determined to use every opportunity to impose their ideas.
For now, the Islamist strategy is more successful. Governments end up alienating people when they attempt to exploit religion for their benefit, whereas the Islamists learned from the government’s mistakes to move their ideas forward.
Conservatives gain ground whenever regional governments fall behind. It is not by muzzling their societies that these governments will reverse the situation, but rather by choosing to communicate openly, without taboos and without demagogy.
For now, unfortunately, this is not the case. Regional governments evade debates on societal issues, while awkwardly riding the wave of religion.
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